‘A slap in the face for primary education’

15th December 2017 at 00:00
Government refuses primary heads a place at the table for its new Scottish Education Council

In a move that has been described as “a slap in the face for primary education”, the government is refusing to include Scotland’s primary headteachers’ organisation on its new Scottish Education Council – the body charged with driving forward improvement in Scottish education.

Scotland’s secondary heads’ organisation, School Leaders Scotland (SLS), meanwhile, has been invited to join.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of school leaders’ body the AHDS, has written to education secretary John Swinney saying the move “continues to offer the impression that, as a system, we value primary and nursery education less than the secondary sector”.

George Gilchrist – a primary headteacher for 18 years before retiring this year and a fellow with the Scottish College for Educational Leadership – told Tes Scotland: “The composition of the council is a slap in the face for primary education and educators...Every other sector is represented on this body, yet primary is overlooked – again. I share Greg’s concerns and the messages this oversight sends – and reinforces – about the importance and value of the sector.”

It was announced early last month that the council had been established “to oversee work to improve education”. It had its first meeting at the end of last month.

However, while secondary headteachers’ body SLS had a seat at that meeting, AHDS did not.

Speaking to Tes Scotland, Mr Dempster said secondaries were often valued above “other parts of the system”.

They received more funding than primaries, had larger management teams and government groups were often dominated by secondary issues, he said.

Preferential treatment

Mr Dempster added that other examples of preferential treatment included the additional in-service days awarded to secondaries for implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and secondary inspections being suspended for a period in 2010 – while primary inspections were only reduced – again, in a bid to support introduction of CfE.

He added: “Given the huge focus on the role of school leaders in Scottish government’s new governance vision, it is surprising to us that they don’t see the need for a dedicated voice for primary and nursery school leaders as part of the education council, in the same way as SLS will provide for secondary leaders.”

Secondary headteachers have broadly welcomed the government’s proposals to devolve more power and money to school, but primary headteachers have been more cautious.

In its response to the government’s original consultation about how schools should be run in the future that closed in January, AHDS said that any changes to governance would be no substitute for “the necessary increase in resources, including staffing, that Scottish education requires”.

In an email responding to Mr Dempster’s request for a seat on the council, Mr Swinney said it had not been possible to include “a number of important organisations, including AHDS” on the council.

‘Comprehensive perspective’

Mr Swinney said that the government valued primary and nursery education “equally to the secondary sector” and that other members of the council, including the leads of the improvement collaboratives and the EIS teaching union, would be “well placed to contribute on primary and nursery matters”. He added that he was looking for the SLS “to bring a comprehensive leadership perspective to the Council’s discussions”.

A Scottish government spokesman said that it had demonstrated that it valued primary and nursery education and secondary education equally through its “commitment to implementing a 3-18 curriculum model” and “our significant investment in the expansion of early learning and childcare”. The spokesman added: “Both nursery and primary education have a prominent role within the National Improvement Framework.”

SLS general secretary Jim Thewliss would not comment on whether or not secondaries were valued more than primaries. However, he found it “strange” that the Scottish Education Council did not include AHDS, saying: “If you are looking for system-wide improvement, you would expect that to be reflected through system-wide representation.”

However, he added that it had been made clear that his remit and that of the EIS on the council would be to reflect the “all-through experience and all-through concerns”.

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